Employers, work force agency talk about needs

CHRIS MORELLI/THE EXPRESS At UPMC Susquehanna Lock Haven, Sherri Shady, R.N., left, an emergency department clinician, works with Pamela Gentzyel, R.N., in the ER. The two are among prized professionals being sought in the region amid a nursing shortage.

LOCK HAVEN — Registered nurses and nursing assistants.

Truck drivers.

Maintenance and repair technicians.

Electronic technicians or “mechatronics.”

Construction workers.

General managers and general laborers.

Name the position or profession and there likely are many job openings in this region.

It’s all great news … until one looks at the pool of available workers.

With consistently low jobless rates over the last several years versus strong economic and job growth, skilled and trainable workers are very much in demand, employers say.

A quick search online at, for example, jobs.lockhaven.com, show booming markets in computer software and security, fitness training, health care and more, where the number of incoming applicants do not match the number of jobs available, according to employers at a recent job fair in Clinton County.

There’s demand for heavy truck drivers, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, janitors, construction laborers, machine operators, food service, while the number of entry level jobs has risen significantly over a short period of time.

The profession that has seen the highest growth this year, according to USNews, is a career in software development.

The ubiquity of digital technology has made these career coders critical to modern life, they claim.

Forbes, a business web site and magazine, lists the top seven jobs as following: Application software developer, nurse practitioner, information security analyst, financial advisor, medical services manager, physical therapist and construction worker.

Employers need and rely on job training.

That’s a huge part of the mission of the Lewisburg-based Central Pennsylvania Workforce Development Corp.

The CPWDC keeps a job database that includes estimates for wages based on experience and projected job openings.

Indeed, the agency is a valuable resource for employment information and job training. It promotes the Pennsylvania CareerLink program, part of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. CPWDC serves multiple counties in Central Pennsylania, including Centre, Clinton, Columbia, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, and Union Counties with a total area of 5,370 square miles. These counties are primarily rural and home to 630,000 residents.

County populations range from 18,800 in Montour County to 161,300 in Centre County. For people ages 25 years and older, 43 percent have a high school diploma or GED and 30 percent hold an associate’s, bachelor’s, graduate or professional school degree. Median household incomes range from $40,900 in Mifflin County to $53,600 in Montour County, and average household incomes range from $50,400 in Mifflin County to $73,600 in Montour County, according to its website at www.cpwdc.org.

Need for nurses

Locally, the most challenging position to fill has been registered nurses, with 254 job openings per year projected just for Central Pennsylvania, according to local workforce experts.

Also in high demand are nursing assistants, with 121 job openings per year projected, and licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses, with 96 job openings per year projected.

“There are so many jobs available in health care. Anything from entry level to CNAs (certified nursing assistants), all the way up to RNs, there is a huge shortage in our region,” said Erica Mulberger, executive director of the CPWDC.

In fact, health care professions seem to be a common theme when it comes to researching careers where applicants are the most sought after.

Beyond that, manufacturing companies seem to have a stranglehold on most of the job openings in this area.

“In general, there are a need for machine operators and CNC (computer numerical control) operators, mechatronic and maintenance technicians for several local manufacturing companies,” Mulberger said.

The field of general maintenance and repair work is projected to see 129 job openings per year in Central Pennsylvania alone.

Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers are expected to see 148 job openings per year, projected, and general and operations managers have 76 job openings per year, projected.

“For CNC and mechatronic technicians they are doing an apprenticeship through the Pennsylvania College of Technology (Penn Tech) with the local companies. They will hire individuals and pay for the on-the-job training along with paying the student to go through Penn Tech to get classroom training,” Mulberger said.

Pennsylvania College of Technology, also known informally as Penn College or Penn Tech, is a public college in Williamsport, affiliated with The Pennsylvania State University.

Lock Haven University, meanwhile, is working to produce graduates for many careers, and is constantly reviewing its offerings to meet industry demands.

The LHU Workforce Development and Continuing Education Office stays busy working with graduates –before and after graduation.

“The university utilizes GAP analysis data compiled by the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education to align university academic programs with workforce needs in our region and in the Commonwealth,” said Elizabeth Arnold, LHU’s executive director of communications and community relations. “We focus on those occupations that require a post-secondary credential, including certificates, associates, bachelor’s, master’s, and applied doctorates, with a view to what is within the university mission, expertise, capacity, and accreditation. Our Workforce Development and Continuing Education office addresses many of the workforce needs that require certifications and trainings that do not bear college credit. The university is able to bundle some types of non-credit bearing training, if certified through licensures, toward a first degree through credit for prior learning.”

FIRST QUALITY

Big on the list of employers seeking employees is First Quality, one of the fastest growing companies in all of Pennsylvania and the largest private employer in Clinton County. FQ is installing a third paper-making machine at Lock Haven, but manufactures a plethora of consumer products, from baby diapers and wipes, underpads, washclothes, adult briefs, tampons, maxipads, bath tissue and power towel, to name a few.

“First Quality Enterprises, Inc. will be hiring at least 135 new workers for positions over the next year and a half. These would be considered high priority occupations for our area,” Mulberger said.

When asked what the most in-demand positions are at First Quality, Joe Miller, the operational excellence leader of First Quality Enterprises, said, “Technicians and mechanics, control technicians … they call them E-and-I techs, electronics and instrumentation.”

Miller is responsible for screening, interviewing, hiring and assisting in on-boarding new team members. He is also responsible for cultivating the leadership and interpersonal skill development of team members, and coaching several leaders with challenges and opportunities.

“With the coming expansion, I expect more of the same … more of the same needs. We will need even more of these folks going and getting that training and looking at this as a career choice. Schools are aware of this,” Miller said.

“We are putting up a new building. You can see it coming off of Route 220. It will house a new paper machine and more warehouse space,” Miller said.

The paper-making operation employs just under 500 people, but “the expansion will create 136 new positions as machine operators and warehouse operators. We will also need to fill 10 to 12 mechanic positions, and 12 to 14 E-and-I tech positions.”

So what is the biggest issue when it comes to finding the right kind of skilled workers?

‘COLLEGE CULTURE’

According to Miller, one challenge is a “college culture” that parents typically instill in their high school-age children.

“We have a strong retention culture. We are like a sports team. Everyone has a role and they are appreciated. We have a turnover rate of less than 8 percent, but attracting new talent has been a real challenge,” Miller said.

“We need to change the culture of parents sending kids to college right out of high school. Somewhere around 70 percent of all high school graduates go on to further education. Of what is remaining, many of them are not employable, as they have reliability issues or cannot pass a drug test, or whatever the case is.

“That does not leave many in the workforce to choose from. Some people might not be aware that there are very profitable, marketable careers out there as technicians that don’t require a full, four-year degree. A lot of companies are looking for people with these skills, whether it be to work at First Quality or somewhere else. There are high paying, rewarding careers,” Miller said.

“There are a lot of great opportunities in the apprenticeship money being thrown at schools. They are paying for seniors or recent grads to enroll in training for this kind of operation, and it is beneficial to the employer and the employee alike. We need to change society’s mindset. It really is a good career… a high demand career,” he finished.

NATIONALLY

Employers nationally are having difficulty finding enough qualified applicants for jobs, said Mike Elder of WorldSkills USA.

For example, he said, automotive industry technicians are in great need.

“Calls continue to come in for these technicians, whether it be to fill vacancies or replacing people in corporate positions, a lot of retirements are leaving voids,” he said. “There are a lot of opportunities for internship programs out there.

Elder agrees that a four-year, college degree does not fit everyone, and more attention should be paid to learning trades.

“What we are currently finding is that people want to stay close to home. Many parents want to see their graduates go on to four year schooling. Sure, there needs to be a push for education. But the youth today have no idea what jobs are out there that do not require degrees. The perception that you have to go to college to make lots of money. That just is not the case. We have to do more with our youth to prepare them for trade skills. We need to match our students up to their natural abilities. It will take cooperation between businesses and educators to model the curriculum,” Elder said.

As far as wages, Elder states, “I will say this … in the automotives industry, if dealerships are not proactive enough with taking care of their technicians … they will go somewhere else. Another dealership will snatch them up. That goes for a lot of skilled labor positions nationwide.”

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